The Trinity: The Mystery of the One God (White)

White, Thomas Joseph. The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God. Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2021.

This is the best book ever written on the Trinity.  Not only is it intellectually superior to everything else, it illustrates how doctrines like divine simplicity increase our adoration. As parts of this review can get quite technical, I will place the key points below and the reader can work through the rest accordingly.

1. immaterial processions in the Godhead form the basis for the economic missions.
2. the internal procession of the Son from the Father does not logically demand a separation of essence.
3. Eternal generation is a relation of origin.
4. persons are subsistent modes of being and relate to each other by way of origin.
5. Relation lets one affirm a distinction of persons without threatening the essence.

Like most accounts of the Trinity, White begins with the revelation of the one God in Israel. God established his identity in sacred history.  We encounter a problem, however, as we examine how his covenant people reflected upon him.  Some terms for God are metaphorical and some analogical.  How do we tell the difference?

White notes five philosophical moments in Israel’s history (prior to the New Testament).  We cannot play off metaphysical speculation against divine revelation.  Divine revelation will not allow it.

  1. A form of Wisdom literature developed in Israel’s history.
  2. Isaiah’s use of ontological categories for the divine name: Isaiah 45:14-25 can be seen as a reflection upon Exodus 3:14.
  3. The LXX gave these passages a distinct metaphysical reading.
  4. Sirach and Wisdom, while not Scripture for Protestants, develop ideas of the afterlife and the soul’s immortality.
  5. 2nd Temple Judaism spoke clearly of protology and eschatology.

To be sure, the above does not prove the Trinity, but we see anticipations.  God creates all things in his Wisdom.  Is this wisdom analogical or metaphorical?  If it is analogical, then it can be seen as a generation of a personal agent.  There is evidence that it is.  God’s Word is active in creation and prophecy; He is the principal of God’s action.

The rest of the first part follows the standard accounts of biblical evidence for the Trinity.  For the sake of space, we will move to the Nicene and post-Nicene developments. The key idea for Trinitarian reflection is that the immaterial processions in the Godhead form the basis for the economic, if we even want to use that word, missions (129).

With Athanasius we see an important development in the concept of eternal generation: it is analogous to the intellect.  For example, substance is not multiplied in the case of a thought from the mind.  So it is with the Trinity: the internal procession of the Son from the Father does not logically demand a separation of essence.

Eternal generation is a relation of origin.  The Cappadocian Fathers clarify this language. Gregory of Nazianzus says that terms like “Father” or “Son” designate a relationship, not an essence or activity (Gregory, Oration 29, quoted in White, 144). There is a connection between the difference of mutual relations and the difference of names (Oration 31).

So then, how do persons relate to the divine essence? The Cappadocians give us another phrase: persons are subsistent modes of being and relate to each other by way of origin (White 146). That is the most important sentence in the book.  To the degree one is heretical or orthodoxy depends on whether one affirms that statement.

From personal relations of origin we now discuss personal or hypostatic characteristics: ingenerateness (or unbegotten), generation, and procession.  You identify the persons of the Trinity by their relations of origin and the terms (above) that flow from them.

The main focus of the book, not surprisingly, is Thomas Aquinas.  White begins this section by covering the standard arguments for the existence of God, but the main point for him, as it was for Thomas, was how they function in metaphysics.  We reason quia, not propter quid; from effect, not from cause.  We cannot reason quia because we do not know the essence of God.

Thomas then explains how we can name God analogically. Negative theology is not simply some New Age denying of everything in God, leaving us only with some vague essence to worship. Rather, we understand that God’s perfections are negative perfections.  As White notes, every negation is a mental act upon the prior admission of something existent (221).  We are denying the finite mode of our understanding of an attribute, not the attribute itself.  This is the difference between the modus significandi, the term analogically applied, and the res ipsa significata, the reality signified.

Divine Simplicity

If we are going to deny composition in God, we need to embrace the other metaphysical issues which this entails. God is not dependent on anything else.  So far, so good.  He is Pure Act. Potentiality is a source of imperfection. God cannot have any potency in him.  An actuation of potency implies a transformation.  With this in mind, we can explore his attributes

Divine perfection: Matter is a source of potentiality and indeterminateness (261).  This makes sense if you think about it.  Matter needs shape.  Matter by itself is potency.  It needs something to form it. This, among other reasons, is why God cannot be material.  This is why God is perfect.

Immutability: As God is infinite, he cannot acquire any new perfections.

Unity: a property of being (316).  It is the absence of division.  It follows from simplicity and perfection.

Prologue to a Thomistic Trinitarianism

There were three medieval Trinitarian models: the Franciscan or emanationist, the relationalist, and the nominalist.  The Franciscans, so reads White’s analysis, began with the Father as principle and then moved to the begetting of the Son.  The Father exists eternally in himself.  The problem is this is a very close resemblance to a human person.

The relationalist model is the Thomist one. Relation lets one affirm a distinction of persons without threatening the essence (386).  To wit, the Father is always “relative” to the Son by eternal generation.  Moreover, God’s simplicity demands these relations be subsistent.

Hearkening back to the Cappadocian model, Thomas notes the processions in God are immanent to him. They are relations of origin. They are correlative terms that are opposite to one another. It makes sense how this works with Father and Son.  It is not immediately clear how the Spirit can be “opposite” to two terms. Thomas uses the analogy of the human mind.  The Son as intellect or Logos moves from the Father. The Son loves the Father (and the Father, the Son). The intellect precedes love.  The love is the movement back. This is how the Father and Son spirate the Spirit (421).

From here White gives an excellent defense of the Filioque:

1) The Father emanates the Spirit as Father of the Son.  The Son is “always already” there.

2) We can only know the persons by relations of origin.

3) The Son’s relation of origin is “from the Father.”

4) If the Spirit’s relation of origin is only from the Father, then he is identical to the Son.

5) Ergo, the Spirit proceeds from the Son.

This is the best book written on the Trinity.  White also deals with modern Trinitarianism (Barth, Rahner, Bulgakov, Pannenberg). The modern Trinitarian movement reduces ontology to history and plays Hegel and Kant against one another (while using both).  That is why we should look to the classical model.

The Unity of Christ (Beeley)

THE GREAT MASTER: ORIGEN

Alexandria Egypt was the crossroads of the world (Dio Chrysostom).  Alexandrian Christianity had rather diverse beginnings.

First Principles: “Origen’s presentation of his doctrinal system here is arguably the most influential single theological project in all of Christian tradition outside of the canonical Scriptures” (Beeley 11).

Christ and Cosmology

words of Christ include “the whole of Scripture” (13).  

“Origen encourages readers to move beyond the human Christ.”

  • dualist view of the cosmos: the physical and sensible world seen as radically impermanent compared to the intellectual sphere. God and the saints inhabit a spiritual world in contrast to the physical world (15).  

Origen’s dualist cosmology came at a certain cost:  it determined how he spoke about Christ.

  • he notes that Christ has two natures, but places these two natures within a Platonic, dualist cosmology.

Divinity and Distinctness

  • our source of knowledge: epinoiai; conceptions.  
  • For Origen a hypostasis is a distinctly existing thing; a concrete entity or being (Cm. John. 10.212).  
  • On the Son’s being:  ousia meant something different for Origen than it did for Nicea.  For Origen this suggested a diminution from the Father’s being.  “Being” suggests the actual existence of a thing, so for two things to share the same being is to be the same thing.

The Image of God

  • The Son has many epinoiai in contrast with the Father’s simplicity.  The Father cannot be directly describable because of his simplicity. Only the Christ, who becomes many things, can image the Father’s simplicity.  The Son is mediator between God and creation, not as an intermediary of being, but in the Son’s way of being divine.

Incarnation: Image Revealed

  • The human soul of Jesus bridges the gap between God’s divinity and Christ’s humanity. In fact, Origen must hold to trichotomy as the only way to bridge the gap. 

FOURTH CENTURY AUTHORITIES

Eusebius of Caesarea

Origen was regarded by some as an accurate transmitter of the rule of faith (51).  ++

Economia

  • God’s ordered dealings with creation, which culminate in the Incarnation.
    • Eus. wants to maintain that Christ is “divine” and older than creation.  Therefore, the Christian faith is really ancient.
  • “theology:” confession of the divinity of Christ.  It is the interpretation of economia (64).
    • Christ’s manner of existence is two-fold
      • He is known to be God by those who believe.
      • Yet he put on human existence capable of suffering.
    • Beeley maintains that Eus. does not see Christ’s generation in any temporal sense (67).  
      • Christ is divine not as an independent deity (one god among others), but as the direct result of his specific relatinship with God the Father.

Does Eusebius hold to a hierarchy of being ala Middle Platonism?

  • To be sure he does say the Son is the bond between creation and God.  But this may be an overly literal reading of his texts. 

Is Eusebius a Semi-Arian??

  • Beeley argues that Eusebius uses temporal prepositions devoid of temporal meaning (91).  He is concerned to use “biblical, rather than philosophical” terms to stress the Son’s transcendence over creation.
  • Eusebius uses a sequential language to underscore our theological epistemology:  we must remember the “causal ordering of the divine generation…Eusebius’s language preserves the economic basis of theological knowing with respect to the inner structure of the Trinity, resisting the leap to an artififical, abstract conceptuality of pure eternity” (92).  

Christology:  Martyrdom leads to political triumph.

  • Eusebius’s understanding of matyrdom “is far from an abstract concern.  It is initially tied up with the surrounding Greco-Roman society in wys that call on Christians to witness to Christ with their bodies as much as with their minds” (96).

NICEA AND ATHANASIUS

Both Arius and Alexander departed from Origen:

  • Arius in denying the Son’s consubstantiality
  • Alexander in denying that the Son was generated from the Father’s will (116).

Alexander’s modifications:

  • Son always exists from the Father..  The Greek term aei denotes nonsequentiality (116);  

Athanasius I

  • Christ’s identity as the eternal Word of God. 
    • Logos idea: Word is truly of or from the Father (128).  
    • Principle of existence or means of God’s providence (C. Gent. 29, 42, 46). 
  • Salvation Through Incarnation
    • Our need to overcome death and mortality (Inc. 10).  Overcome this by participating in the Word (Inc. 4-5, 11).  
    • Our natural state is “corruption towards non-being” (Inc. 4, 7).  
    • Christ’s death reverses all of this
  • The Word versus its Flesh
    • highly dualist conception of Christ (Beeley 133).   Distingishes between the human body and the Word. 
    • Divine word did not suffer at all when it was born/died (Inc. 17).  
    • The Word used the body as an instrument (Inc. 20).  
  • Dualist Cosmology and Anthropology
    • strong distinction between intelligible and sensible realms (C. Gent 10).  
    • Radical division between being and nonbeing. 
    • God is known by works, but we can’t know his essence.  This raises a tension:  how can the Word reveal itself through his bodily acts yet deny any knowledge of God’s essence (136)?  
  • Conclusions:
    • Logos Christology is dualist.
    • Absolute impassibility of the Word.

Athanasius II: The Orations Against the Arians

Per Marcellus of Ancyra, the human Christ will eventually cease to be in the eternal kingdom; this is probably why the Creed says “His kingdom will have no end” (144).  

  • Rhetorical strategy:  mean
  • The Image of God
    • This is a new development in his works.  
    • Christ is the image and form of divinity.
      • He reveals the divinity of the Father, the brightness of the Father’s light.
      • The Father sees himself in this image (Prov. 8:30; C. Ar. 1.20; 2.82).
    • If Image, then fully divine
    • Language of mediation:  
      • denies the “Word” is a mediator of divinity to creatures, except in Incarnate form (C. Ar. 1.59: 2.31).  
      • If God requires a mediator, then wouldn’t the mediator require a mediator, and so on ad infinitum? (C. Ar. 2.26). 
    • Is God’s will distinct from his being?
      • C. Ar. 1.29; 3.62
  • The Incarnation
    • Christ’s human experiences were not the experiences of the WOrd, but of his human flesh alone (C. Ar. 1.41).  
    • Beeley argues Athanasius’s debt to Marcellus (154). 
    • The communicatio idiomatum is strictly verbal (155; cf. C. Ar. 3.32; 41).
    • It is hard for Athanasius to say that Jesus developed (Luke 2:52).  
  • Technical terminology
    • emphasis on strict oneness between Word and Father (follows Origen).  
    • metaphysics:  real problem with Arian term “originate” is that it means the Word was created in time and ex nihilo (Decr. 16).  
    • homousion as generic: relationship b/t father and son–common nature shared by derivation; relationship b/t all humans of one class (Ep. Serap. 2.8-9).

Athanasius III: The Late WOrks 

CAPPADOCIANS

  • Homoian debate
  • Apollinarius
    • Despite his problems in truncating Jesus’s soul, he raises a valid point: what is Christ’s “acting principle?”  Traditional ontology and psychology would have said “the soul.”  If Jesus had two souls, per Apollinarius, then which one is the “acting” one?
  • Gregory of Nazianzus
    • Views Christ’s identity in dynamic, narrative terms (Beeley 185)
    • the very nature of human existence is a dynamic movement towards God rooted in our creation and oriented towards consummation (185).  By anchoring theosis in the goodness of human creation, Gregory avoids most of the pitfalls associated with this doctrine.
      • Christ is the means of our restoration.
      • Xp effects our divinization in and through himself.
      • He uses language of “mixture” (mixis), “union” (henosis), and “blending” (krasis). in regards to the divinity and humanity in Christ.  
        • Not a crass mixture, though.  Gregory isn’t too clear on this point.
    • Biblical interpretation:  Gregory’s understanding of perichoresis is to emphasize the difference b/t intra-Trinitarian relations and the union of God with humanity (Beeley 189, cf. Ep. 101.20-21).  
      • communicatio is true at the level of Christ’s being.  Christ did not merely operate (energein) by grace, but was and is joined together with human existence in his being (Ep. 101.22).  Here is a huge advance over Athanasius’s dualism. 
      • His method preserves the unity of Christ and, pace Athanasius, does not see the humanity as a separate existence.
    • The suffering of God.  incorporation of human suffering into the divine life (not simply divine being;  he is not abandoning impassibility, but seeing God’s being as life).  
    • Through the knowledge of Christ as “God made visible,” Christians are divinized and elevated through faith (Beeley 194; cf. Or. 29.18-19).
  • Gregory of Nyssa
    • he embraced Greek philosophy more than did Basil or Nazianzus.
    • Against Eunomius
      • Nyssa focuses on the language of creation.
      • For the most part Gregory does not represent an advance on the Nazianzen.   Per the communicatio he repeats both Ath. and Naz., “the lowly statements apply to the Servant; the honors to the master’ (Beeley 208; cf. C. Eun. 3.3.65-66).  
        • the divinity participated in Christ’s passion by serving as the active principle against the passivity of the flesh (210).  
    • Against Apollinaris
      • Here Gregory’s dualist Christology almost comes apart (see his references to a drop of wine in the sea; Christ not coming again bodily, but in the Father’s glory–Antirrh. 230).

THE CONSTRUCTION OF ORTHODOXY

Augustine and the West

  • Hilary of Poitiers
    • Transition point between East and West.
    • “carries forward a revitalized Eusebian tradition…Origen” (226).  
    • “The Trinity”
      • The Son’s generation is closely tied with role as unique revealer of the Father.
      • Distinction between Father-Son relationship and Creator-creature relationship.
      • The Son is image of the Father’s substance; distinct but not dissimilar.
      • One God because one principle (Trin. 5.10; 7.32).
    • Hilary’s weak points:
      • Jesus did not have the same kind of humanity as us (10.23), 
      • Did not believe Jesus possessed a corruptible human substance.
      • This “froze his Christology in a particular dualist position” (Beeley 230).
  • Ambrose of Milan
    • He indirectly corrected Hilary’s project.
    • echoes Nazianzus that Christ’s divine identity need not conflict with his human.
    • The Word died a human death, not a divine one (Inc. 5.36).
    • Divine mediation:  not only reconciles us to God but positively convey’s divine nature to us (Inc. 4.23).
  • Augustine’s early Christology
    • Consciously adopted the “one persona, duabas naturas” (concept).
    • Strongly unitive Christology
    • Christ is the crucial link between the divine love and the love we show others.
    • Totus Christus
    • Augustine’s use of “two personae” is not meant to be dualist: “he uses the term to mean something like a literary persona or voice” (Beeley 240).
  • Augustine’s Mature Christology
    • Christ’s humanity is humanity of the divine Son; he is divinely human.
    • Augustine’s project, while deficient in many respects, does constitute an advance in one key area:  he ties in the juridical aspect. (Trin. 4.19).
  • Augustine’s Late Christology
    • Christ’s introduces “healing into the death of the flesh” by the hidden and mysterious power of the divine decree.
    • Christ’s mediation is his divine-human identity.  
      • The nature of divine mediation is not to wield absolute power but to extend oneself in love and justice (Civ Dei. 9.16-17).

CYRIL, LEO, and CHALCEDON

  • Cyril of Alexandria
    • His major influence, argues Beeley (258), was not Athanasius but Gregory Nazianzen.
      • His use of “Hypostatic union” at this point is not strictly technical.
      • The Word is united with human flesh as a single hypostasis.  Union is “the concurrence into one reality (en) of the things united” (Un. Chr. 3.62/ Ep. Eulog. 64).  
      • “The one nature”
  • Leo of Rome
    • we see the language of “both natures acting.”  This is a very definite–though often unnoticed–move away from Cyril.   Natures do not act.  Persons do.
    • Beeley openly states that “Leo’s position is essentially the same as Nestorius” (Beeley 276).
    • Chalcedon bypasses the earlier narrative dynamics of Gregory and Cyril (economy of salvation) and moves into technical language (282).

POST-CHALCEDONIAN CHRISTOLOGY

  • Leontius of Byzantium
    • all natures are hypostasized but need not have multiple hypostases. 
    • the hypostatic characteristic of every nature is not the same as the nature itself.
      • a nature is a general category; hypostasis a specific one. A hypostasis exists in itself, whereas a nature can only exist in a hypostasis.
      • The problem is that this leads to a generic definition of the Trinity
      • The hypostasis is seen as a principle of individuation.  
      • His connection of the two natures suggest they exist within a kind of netrual space, rather than in the Son of God (291). 
  • Constantinople II
  • Maximus the Confessor
    • Did he misunderstand Gregory?  Gregory sees the Trinity as a monad moving to a dyad and ending in a triad (Or. 23.8).  Maximus resists this meaning and says Gregory is speaking of creation (Quaest. 105; Ambig. 1).
    • Places himself in a narrative understanding of Christology.
    • The wills work together in this way: The divine Son wills all that Christ does.  He is the ultimate subject of all of Christ’s works.   But Jesus also had a natural human will–whether or not to follow and obey the divine will.
    • Jesus’s will is not gnomic (300ff). It does not wander or subject itself to wavering human condition.
  • John of Damascus
    • He differs with Maximus’s approach in several respects:  he does not begin with Nazianzen but as a committed Chalcedonian he filters the fathers through that standpoint.
    • He relies heavily on Leontius.
    • Even though Jesus’s humanity is divinized, Damascene emphasizes that it was God who became man, not man becoming God.

Observations

Beeley shows how the old Antiochene/Alexandrian divide breaks down at key moments (272).

We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ (ed. McGuckin)

cGuckin, John. ed. We Believe in One Lord Jesus Christ Ancient Christian Doctrines, volume 2. Downers Grove, IL: IntervarsityPress, 2009.

John McGuckin gives us an outstanding, yea even world-class compendium of Patristic Christology. It nicely succeeds the first volume in the series. McGuckin notes a set of “ciphers” that explain the theology behind the Nicene Creed:

“‘Christ’ becomes a cipher by which the Fathers consider the corpus of Scripture as a proleptic description of the Incarnation” (McGuckin 10).
“The image of Light from Light inspired whole generations of patristic theologians across many centuries, who saw it as a vivid cipher of the divine unity and harmony of action” (49).
The ‘coming down’ (katabasis) was a cipher for the great theophanic epiphanies of God in the Old Testament, notably at Sinai and in the pillar of fire that God used to symbolize his presence in the desert” (96). It is God’s self-revelation and his compassionate stooping down to mankind.
“The Logos is not merely ultimate Truth but also the perfect beauty of God” (xxi).

We Believe in One Lord

Gregory of Nazianzus: “…the Father who experiences through the Son nothing corporeal, since he is Mind” (Poema Arcana 1.25-34).

Gregory of Nyssa: “that while we confess the invariable character of the [divine] nature, we do not deny the difference in respect of cause (to aition) and that which is caused (aitiaton), by which alone we apprehend that one person is distinguished from another” (On Not Three Gods).

Jesus Christ

Ephrem the Syrian: “The letter yodh of Jesus, our King, is queen of all the numbers” (Hymns on the Nativity 27.13-16).

The Only Son of God

A key element in this treatment is St Basil’s Letter 236, where he outlines how to gloss ousia and hypostasis. Thus, Basil:

The distinction between οὐσία and ὑ πόστασις is the same as that between the general and the particular; as, for instance, between the animal and the particular man. Wherefore, in the case of the Godhead, we confess one essence or substance so as not to give a variant definition of existence, but we confess a particular hypostasis, in order that our conception of Father, Son and Holy Spirit may be without confusion and clear….Hence it results that there is a satisfactory preservation of the unity by the confession of the one Godhead, while in the distinction of the individual properties regarded in each there is the confession of the peculiar properties of the Persons.

Gregory of Nazianzus: The Son is related to the Father as Word is to Mind….This follows from his passionless generation and from the union, and is part of his revelatory function” (Oration 30.20).

Eternally Begotten of the Father

Gregory of Nyssa: [as] the existence of the Son is not marked by intervals of time and the infinitude of his life flows back from before the ages and onward beyond them in an all-pervading tide, he is properly addressed with the title of eternal” (Against Eunomius 1.42).

Origen: [The Son is generated from the Father] as an act of will proceeds from the mind without cutting off a part of the mind” (On First Principles 1.2.6).

Gregory of Nyssa: “The idea of cause differentiates the persons of the Holy Trinity, declaring that one exists without cause and another is of the Cause….but in speaking of cause and of the cause, we do not by these words denote nature….but we indicate difference in the manner of existence” (On Not Three Gods).

Gregory of Nyssa: The Characteristics of the Father’s person (hypostasis) cannot be transferred to the Son or the Spirit, no, on the other hand, can that of the Son be accommodated to one of the others” (On The Lord’s Prayer 3).

True God from True God

Clement of Alexandria alludes to “Cthonic daimons” against whom the Christian faith wars (58 n. 40).

Begotten not Made

Athanasius: He is the proper Word of the Father, and we cannot, therefore, suppose any will existing before him, since he is the Father’s living counsel and power….By the act of will by which the Son is willed by the Father, the Son himself loves and wills and honors the Father” (Against the Arians 3.63, 66).

Of One Being With the Father

Basil: community of ousia is taken to mean an identical principle of being (Against Eunomius 1.19).

For Us

Gregory of Nazianzus: “….in order that I too might be made God so far as he is made man” (Oration 29.19).

And for our salvation

Irenaeus: “The glory of God is a living, human being” (Adv. Haer. 4.20.6).

He came down

Ephrem the Syrian: “The scattered symbols you have gathered from the Torah towards your beauty, and you set forth the prototypes in your gospel as well as powers and signs from nature….The types have come to an end, but the allusions persist. The flash of the symbols has been swallowed up by your rays” (Hymns on Virginity 28.2-5).

By the Power of the Holy Spirit

Cyril of Alexandria: For though the Holy Spirit has a personal existence (hypostasis) of his own and is conceived of by himself, he he is not therefore alien from the Son. For he is called the Spirit of Truth, and Christ is the truth, and he is poured forth from him just as he is also from God the father” (3rd Letter to Nestorius).

Cyril of Alexandria: “For the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father but also belongs to the Son” (Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 11).

He Became Incarnate

Cyril of Jerusalem: “Let us never be ashamed of the Cross of Christ. Others may want to hide it, but you should mark it on your forehead, so that the devils may behold the royal sign and flee trembling far away” (Catechetical Lectures 4.14)

From the Virgin Mary

Gregory of Nazianzus: “Anyone who does not admit that holy Mary is the mother of God is out of touch with the Godhead” (Letter 101.5)

And was made man

Athanasius: “He became man, and did not come into a man” (Against the Arians 3.30; here Athanasius rebuts the Aristotelian container notion of space).

Theodoret of Cyr: “For even though souls are immortal, they are not immutable but constantly undergo many changes” (Letter 146).

Key terminology

Ousia: nature or being

Cause: the proprium of being the uncaused Cause is the unique attribute of the Father (3 n7).

Idiomata: personal characteristics (25 n7).

The Cappadocians (Anthony Meredith)

thaumaturge

A good, succinct intro to Cappadocian theology.  Anthony Meredith spends most of the book on Gregory of Nyssa. While Cappadocian studies have come far since he has written, he handles the primary texts well and points the student in the right direction.

While Gregory Thaumaturgos (“The Wonderworker,” A.D. 275) was not the first great Cappadocian Christians, he was the most important before the “Three.”  He was a disciple of Origen.

The Roots of Cappadocian Theology

The Cappadocians received Platonism mediated through Origen (Meredith 10).  We participate in the Good through askesis, or training.

Basil of Caesarea

While monasticism had been going strong since the days of St Anthony, with Basil it became a full-powered social force (at least outside of Egypt).  Anchoring Basil’s monachism is his theology of the Spirit, so Meredith argues (24). One of the ways the Christian tradition broke with Hellenism, especially in Basil, was the emphasis on and goodness of hard work, manual labor.

For Basil becoming like God and knowing God are strongly connected (like is known by like).  He highlights two roles of the Holy Spirit: Perfecting and life-giving. He primarily perfects rational agents by forming virtue in them (30).

Gregory of Nazianzus

“Light” is the most characteristic term Gregory uses for God (43).  This structures Gregory’s soteriology as one of enlightenment. Meredith suggests you can trace the argument from Plato’s Republic 7 and Origen’s Peri Archon 2.11 through Orations 9.2 and 27.3.

Gregory’s reliance on Origen’s view that the human soul of Christ is where the union of the divine and human natures take place is seen in Letter 101.

Gregory of Nyssa

Akoulouthia: an underlying coherent pattern.

Eros: With Gregory it becomes the human craving for God.

Unlike Arius, who didn’t want to define the divine nature, the Eunomians defined it as ingeneracy.  Different names of God = different natures.

In answering Eunomius, Gregory outlines a brilliant metaphysics. Among other things, the Good cannot be defined by its opposite (CE 1.68). From here Gregory concludes to God’s infinity.

Shoring up their achievements

The Trinity is the divine life.  The divine nature does not have an independent reality apart from the persons (105).  Meredith explains: “In the Basilian scheme each person of the Trinity can be thought of as a union of the general divine nature and an individual characteristic, sometimes referred to as a tropos hyparxeos or way of existing.  So the Father is as it were a compound of divinity + Fatherhood, and so on for the Son and Spirit” (105).

For Gregory of Nazianzus the monarchia is the key term.  Yet, it is a flexible term as he seems to mean both the Father and the unity of the Godhead (contrast Oration 42.15 with 5th Theological Oration.14).  Which is right? Probably the first. It makes more sense of Gregory’s larger project that the monarchia is the source of order and being (Meredith 107).  The only difficulty is that if pressed too hard, it would have the Father as the source of his own being!

Gregory of Nyssa: We infer the unity of being with the unity of action (109).  Interestingly, Meredith acknowledges that Gregory does not teach the filioque (110), since Gregory’s Trinity is asymmetrical.

On God and Christ (Gregory Nazianzus)

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One critical fault:  The translator opts for “But monotheism we hold in honor” when all other renditions have “But Monarchy is what we hold in honor.” As Gregory is contrasting Christianity with Judaism, a simple monotheism doesn’t make sense.

The Claims of Knowledge
St Gregory’s opponents, the Eunomians, reduced God to a set of deductive proofs. Unlike the earlier Gnostics and Arians, their problem was not that God was unknowable, but that he can easily be reduced to what the mind can affirm or negate.

On the Son

Gregory defines monotheism as “single rule produced by equality of nature, harmony of will, identity of action, and the convergence towards their source of what springs from unity—none of which is possible in the case of created nature” (29:2). This allows “numerical distinction without division in substance. In this way a One eternally changes to a Two and stops at a Three.”

St Gregory makes an important point in saying that the Son and Holy Spirit are from God but not after him. They have a cause, and thus are not unoriginate, but it is not a temporal cause. He is very quick to affirm the co-eternality of the Son and Holy Spirit with the Father.

Gregory’s Vocabulary

Like St Athanasius, St Gregory operates around a series of terms, which determine the debate. They are “Ingenerate, The Begotten, and ‘what proceeds from the Father’” (28:2). Gregory is careful to affirm that Ingeneracy is not God’s substance (29:12). This is a necessary point because the Son is not ingenerate (since he is begotten), but the Son is of the same substance as the Father.

The term “Father” designates neither the activity nor the substance, but the relationship which holds good between the Father and the Son (29:16). This rebuts the dilemma posed: if we say that Father designates the “substance,” then we admit the Son is of a different substance than the Father. If we say “activity,” then we admit the Son is a creation of the Father. If we say “relationship,” however, we can affirm Trinitarianism.

Gregory concludes by saying that “each member of the Trinity is in entire unity as much with himself as with the entire partnership, by identity with being and power (31:16).

Vipers of Venice: The Topological Metaphor

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This is sort of a sequel to Babylon’s Banksters.  It’s mostly excellent, though he does get into his anti-Yahweh speculation at times.  I don’t think that is necessary to his thesis and it somewhat detracts from the book. On the other hand, his comments on the nature of mind, soul, and the Topological Metaphor are outstanding.

1 = 3

Imagine an undifferentiated “No-Thing.”  This isn’t “nothing” in the sense of non-existence.  It’s rather like an empty hyper-set. Designate it with Φ.   Imagine an empty rectangle:

Image result for rectangle

Strictly speaking, this rectangle, or empty set, doesn’t have any edges.  It is an infinitely extended no-thing. Now, we cleave this space:

Image result for rectangle with circles inside

So now we have two spaces, “all that inside the circle, and all outside it” (Farrell 126). All of the space outside the circle will be the interior of space 1, designated as a topological “o” superscript above the Φ.  But since the rectangle goes on forever, what we really have is this:

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(1) Φ⁰

The space inside the circle is another interior, (2) Φ⁰.

And the common surface between the two, designated with an alpha

ɑΦ₁₂

Now let’s look at what just happened.  Remember we still have our empty hyperset (Φ).  We now have three derivatives: the space outside the circle, the space inside the circle, and the common surface between the two.  Thus,

Φ = (1) Φ⁰, (2) Φ⁰, and ɑΦ₁₂

Therefore, 1 = 3.  I’m going to take this model in a radically different direction than does Farrell. He thinks this model represents an earlier way of thinking about the cosmos that predated Yahwist traditions. I’m skeptical of that claim, as some of Farrell’s positions have come under attack.

But the model itself is quite powerful, and it explains a way of looking at some difficult sayings by St Maximus the Confessor.

“According to St. Maximus, God is “identically a monad and a triad.” Capita theologica et oeconomica2, 13; P.G. 90, col. 1125A.He is not merely one and three; he is 1=3 and 3=1. That is to say, here we are not concerned with number as signifying quantity: absolute diversities cannot be made the subjects of sums of addition; they have not even opposition in common. If, as we have said, a personal God cannot be a monad — if he must be more than a single person — neither can he be a dyad. The dyad is always an opposition of two terms, and, in that sense, it cannot signify an absolute diversity. When we say that God is Trinity we are emerging from the series of countable or calculable numbers. St. Basil appears to express this idea well: “For we do not count by way of addition, gradually making increase from unity to plurality, saying ‘one, two, three’ or ‘first, second, third.’ ‘I am the first and I am the last,’ says God (Isaiah 44:6). And we have never, even unto our own days, heard of a second God. For in worshipping ‘God of God’ we both confess the distinction of persons and abide by the Monarchy.” De spiritu sancto18; P.G. 32, col. 149B. The procession of the Holy Spirit is an infinite passage beyond the dyad, which consecrates the absolute (as opposed to relative) diversity of the persons. This passage beyond the dyad is not an infinite series of persons but the infinity of the procession of the Third Person: the Triad suffices to denote the Living God of revelation. St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 23 (De pace 3), 10; P.G. 35, col. 1161. Or. 45 (In sanctum pascha); P.G. 36, col. 628C.If God is a monad equal to a triad, there is no place in him for a dyad. Thus the seemingly necessary opposition between the Father and the Son, which gives rise to a dyad, is purely artificial, the result of an illicit abstraction. Where the Trinity is concerned, we are in the presence of the One or of the Three, but never of two.

When we speak of the Personal God, who cannot be a monad, and when, bearing in mind the celebrated Plotinian passage in the works of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, we say that the Trinity is a passage beyond the dyad and beyond its pair of opposed terms, “The monad is set in motion on account of its richness; the dyad is surpassed, because Divinity is beyond matter and form; perfection is reached in the triad, the first to surpass the composite quality of the dyad, so that the Divinity neither remains constrained nor expands to infinity.” St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 23 (De pace3), 8; P.G. 35, col. 1160C. See also Or. 29 (Theologica3), 2; P.G. 36, col. 76B.  (Lossky, “The Procession of the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Theology”)

But back to Farrell’s argument.  Because the above model is written in quasi-mathematical terms, and because it couldn’t exist without a conscious observer (or Mind), this means we have an information-creating system.  This is a system that doesn’t reduce to a closed cosmos (and thus Aristotle is false).

Farrell says the hermetic occultist Giordano Bruno was advocating something like that.  Maybe. The problem is that Bruno couched all of it in what we call New Age terminology, and that’s partly why he got burned at the stake.  There might have been another reason why he got burned: he advocated a way of approaching the world, and particularly finance, that attacked the Aristotelian and (ironically) usurious system of the Venetians.  Bruno thought he could tap into the primordial medium.

Excursus:  Is it possible to tap into this medium?

Let’s say some sort of “zero-point” medium exists.  Is it possible to tap into it and should we? I think it is possible, but I think it is very dangerous to do so.  This might explain the phenomena behind remote viewing. The mind is a non-local entity (and that’s good Christian doctrine).  Therefore, it is somehow connected with this Medium, or at least it has access to it.

I think it is kind of like looking through the Palantir in Lord of the Rings.  Other entities are also using it and you could accidentally open a gateway.

Another problem with Bruno’s interpretation of the Medium is that he saw the descending forms as mutable gods.  There are two legitimate ways to respond to Bruno: say that Plato’s forms aren’t gods but rather pockets of mathematical information.  That is what the physicist Werner Heisenberg argued. We could also say that yes, indeed, they are gods. They are the fallen beney elohim.  That also does an end-run around Farrell’s use of Babylonian entities in the Cosmic War and Giza Death Star Destroyed.

 

A Patristic Linkstorm

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This is a database (or will be) of my references to the church fathers.  People ask me, “So what should I read?”  This might help.

Getting the Trinity Right

Barrett, Matthew.  Simply Trinity.  The best book on the Trinity.

Erickson, Millard.  Who’s Tampering with the Trinity.

Giles, Kevin. The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity.

Torrance, Thomas. One Being: Three Persons

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Set

Ephrem the Syrian.  Lyrically beautiful but hard to read without some understanding of the Syriac mindset.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies.  Bailey links to this edition. I understand that AH is hard to read through, but books III-V are just too important to condense.  However, it is very difficult to find an accessible edition, so I will go with that version.

Athanasius, Contra Arianos.  Everyone links to On the Incarnation.  I admit it is important, but it’s not that important and it is nowhere near as good as CA.  Unfortunately, you have to go to the Schaff edition to find an accessible version.

Origen.  On First Principles.  Yes, you have to be careful reading Origen, but he is just too important to dismiss.  I am aware of the 5th Council’s anathemas, but they aren’t part of the council itself (and are morally and historically suspect).  Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine a Gregory or a Maximus without an Origen.

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity.  A so-called “Western” take on the Trinity before the Augustinian revolution.  This volume is expensive, but you can find the Schaff edition online somewhere.

John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith.

Popular Patristics Paperbacks

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ. Read this before anything else.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  Festal Orations.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Man.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching.

Four Desert Fathers.

Hippolytus, On the Apostolic Tradition.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Lectures on the Sacraments

John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood.

Maximus the Confessor, The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.  Read this at least three times.  It is the most important book on this list.

Maximus the Confessor, Two Hundred Chapters of Theology.

Basil, On the Holy Spirit.

BasilOn Social Justice.

Basil, On Christian Doctrine and Practice.

Basil, on Fasting and Feasting.

Irenaeus, On the Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons.

John of Damascus, Three Treatises on Divine Images.

Melito of Sardis, On Pascha.

Ancient Christian Texts

Severian and Bede on Genesis 1-3.

Andrew of Caesarea on Revelation.

Ancient Christian Doctrines

We Believe in One God, ed. Bray.

And in One Lord Jesus Christ, ed. McGuckin.

Athanasius

Anatolios, Khaled.  Athanasius: The Coherence of his Thought.  Probably the best text on working out the God-world relationship in Athanasius.  He tries to rescue Athanasius from the charge of of “instrumentalizing Christ’s humanity,” but I am not sure he succeeds.

Williams, Rowan.  Arius: Heresy and Tradition.  Kind of limited and scope and Williams tends to see Barth and Bonhoeffer as the Athanasiuses of our day, but his handling of ancient philosophy is masterful.

Gwynn, David.  The Eusebians: The Polemic of Athanasius of Alexandria and the Construction of the ‘Arian Controversy.’

Augustine

Ayres, Lewis.  Augustine.   Good read.  I think he downplays any neo-platonic elements, but certainly will be a standard text.

Nicea

Ayres, Lewis.  Nicea and its Legacy. Ayres has a tendency to use “simplicity” (aplosis) as a univocal term among the fathers, when it clearly isn’t.  Notwithstanding, this will end up being the standard work in the field.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ: Continuity and Conflict in the Patristic Tradition.  Tries to rehabilitate Origen somewhat; a fantastic read.  Limited in scope, though.  Origen and the immediate aftermath get a lot of attention.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Beeley, Christopher.  Gregory of Nazianzus on the Trinity and the Knowledge of God: In Your Light We Shall See Light .  Hit or miss.  But outstanding discussio on Gregory’s usage of “cause” and “monarchia.”  In fact, the best treatment on that in the English language, period.  I have his essay on this if you want it.

McGuckin, John.  St. Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.

Gregory of Nyssa

Boersma, Hans.  Embodiment and Virtue in Gregory of Nyssa.

Radde-Galwitz, Andrew.  Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity.  The best patristic book on divine simplicity.

Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius.

Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses.

Barnes, Michel. The Power of God: Dynamis in Gregory of Nyssa.

Von Balthasar, Hans urs. Presence and Thought.

Origen

de Lubac, Henri.  History and Spirit.

Cyril

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  One of the best texts on Cyril.  Period.

Gavrilyuk, Paul. Suffering of the Impassible God: Dialectics of the Patristic Tradition.  Excellent discussions.  His goal is to close the gap between Cyril and modern critics of Cyril..  Not sure he succeeds.

Maximus the Confessor

Cooper, Adam.  The Body in St. Maximus the Confessor: Holy Flesh, Wholly Deified.  Great discussion of Maximus’s “Five Divisions” and their subsequent unities.

Bathrellos, Demetrios.  The Byzantine Christ.  The best discussion on Maximus the Confessor.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Cosmic Liturgy: Maximus.   Great section dealing with terms like hypostasis.  He tries to make Maximus a hard-line neo-Chalcedonian.  Other scholars have thoroughly attacked Balthasar on this point.

von Balthasar, Hans urs.  Presence and Thought.

Thunberg, Lars.  Microcosm and Mediator.   Encyclopedic work on Maximus.  No original ideas here, but an outstanding summary of the Nyssa-Maximus tradition.

Loudonikos, Nikolaos.  A Eucharistic Ontology.  My favorite work on Maximus.

Barnes, Michel.  Dunamis in the thought of Gregory of Nyssa. The best discussion on what Gregory means by energy and power.

Tollefsen, Torstein.  The Christocentric Cosmology of Maximus the Confessor.

Torononen, Melchisidec. Union and Distinction in Maximus the Confessor.

Survey Texts

McGuckin, John.  A History of Christianity.

Jenkins, The Lost History of Christianity.

Review: Festal Orations

This is more than a review.  I cross-referenced the orations here with the sets in Schaff and Daley, so that you can see which ones overlap. This review will touch on both Gregory’s theology and the superb introduction by Nonna Harrison.

05-St-Gregory-Nazianzus-764x1024Noting how Gregory interweaves rhetoric, liturgy, and theology, Harrison summarizes:

(1) Festal anamnesis: these are re-presentations of God’s saving works in such a way that the worshiper “can participate in these events as present realities and receive the eschatological salvation” (Harrison 24).  It is an “encounter with the Lord who transcends time.”

(2) Festal mimesis: similar to above, mimesis is a pattern of thought in which people sought to imitate the event (29).

On The Trinity

In an unusual move, Gregory speaks of the divine attributes as both singular and plural (Harrison, 38ff, Oration 23.11).  Gregory is also insistent on the Cappadocian taxis: from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.

Harrison then corrects the Schaff translation of periastraphthete, “struck from all sides by lightning.” Harrsion suggests this is important because “the divine persons surround Gregory’s congregation as three overwhelming lights that are also one light enveloping them” (40).

Gregory expertly ties in Christ’s birth as a reversal of the plague of darkness in Egypt and the darkness before Creation.  Implying, among other things, that Egypt was a kind of reverse-creation (38.2).

The Format of the text

The anchor text for St Gregory of Nazianzus’s writings is volume seven of the Schaff series (NPNF 2). Does this work repeat the earlier work of Schaff?  Yes, but it corrects the translations and the presentation is so much better that you should go ahead and get it.

Oration 1: On Pascha and His Slowness (Schaff-Gregory, p.203)
Oration 38: On the Nativity of Christ (Schaff-Gregory, p. 345).
Oration 39: On the Baptism of Christ (Schaff-Gregory, p. 352).
Oration 40: On Baptism (Schaff-Gregory, p. 360).
Oration 41: On Pentecost (Schaff-Gregory, p. 378).
Oration 45: The second oration on Easter (Schaff-Gregory, p. 422).

A Patristics Primer

I spent the past few days on Facebook debating soon-to-be-Socinians in the CBMW on why you shouldn’t tinker with the Trinity.  Some friends have asked me for a primer on basic Patristics texts.  This is more or less an impossible request but I can start to lay the groundwork.  If you devote at least a good six months to working through these issues, you will begin to see why tinkering with the Trinity must end badly.

Primary Sources

Hilary of Poitiers, “De Synodis.”  St Hilary explains how the early Fathers had to break the back of certain categories before they became acceptable.

Athanasius.  Contra Arianos.  This work is very difficult to read but it is his best work.

Gregory of Nazianzus.  On God and Christ: Five Theological Orations.  The best thing ever written on Trinitarianism.

Gregory of Nyssa.  “Great Catechism” and “On Not Three Gods.”  Advances the argument that the Trinity is one mind, will, power, and energy of operation.  This is why Gospel Coalition types won’t engage me when I ask them how many minds are in the Trinity.

Basil.  On The Holy Spirit.

Pseudo-Dionysius.  The Divine Names.

Basic Trinitarianism

Letham, Robert.  The Holy Trinity.  Letham has a number of blind-spots but he covers the material better than any.

Lacugna, Catherine.  God for Us.  She is a liberal Jesuit and that comes out in her writing, but she does a fine job on the Cappadocians.

Torrance, Thomas.  The Trinitarian Faith and One Being: Three persons.  The two best texts by a modern on the Trinity.  Torrance has few equals.  And no, his so-called “neo-orthodoxy” does not come out in this.

Intermediate Issues

McGuckin, John.  Saint Cyril of Alexandria and the Christological Controversy.  Excellent survey of Cyril’s thought and he makes the argument that Chalcedon, far from being a Western council, specifically made Cyril the standard for Christology.

———–.  St Gregory of Nazianzus: An Intellectual Biography.  Just fun.

Beeley, Christopher.  The Unity of Christ and In Your Light We See Light.

Advanced Issues

Barnes, Michel.  The Power of God.  Explores Gregory of Nyssa’s use of “dynamis” in Christology.

Farrell, Joseph.  God, History, and Dialectic.  Be careful but some good analysis.

Photios.  Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps the Filioque can be salvaged, but not by positing the Father-Son as a single cause.

Jenson, Robert.  Systematic Theology, vol. 1.

Philosophical Foundations.

Perl, Eric.  Theophany: Dionysius’s Philosophy.

Gould and Davis (eds).  Loving God with Your Mind: Essays in Honor of JP Moreland.   Some outstanding essays on what it means for universals to be exemplified.

Maximus the Confessor.  The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.

Moreland, J. P. Universals.

Cooper, John. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting.

Morris, Thomas.  The Logic of God Incarnate.  This is tough and I am not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, but it is an important study nonetheless.

Plantinga, Alvin.  Does God have a Nature?  Yeah, yeah, classical theism and all.  Plantinga’s arguments can’t simply be brushed aside.

In Your Light We See Light

Christopher Beeley gives a fine summary and exposition of Gregory’s key orations. Beeley argues that Knowledge of God is a two-fold dialectic of purification and illumination. Our knowledge of God is intimately rooted in who God is. In the sense of God’s grandeur, he cannot be fully known or mastered (95). God isn’t different from us in degree, but kind. He is fully beyond time and space (Or. 2.5; 76).

beeley

Gregory’s epistemology: anything that can be understood, and all language, is mentally ‘embodied,’ so that we are incapable of transcending the corporeality of our knowing (99-100). This is the negative way of saying we know God. The positive is by the concept of “illumination.” God’s being/light overflows and fills us. This is a dynamic process in which we grow.

Jesus Christ: The Son of God

Gregory’s Christology is connected to the theosis tradition (116ff). As Beeley notes, “We have been created in a state of dynamic movement towards God” (118). Gregory is primarily interested in the dynamic economy of Christ’s divinity. Beeley has a fine explanation of Kenotic Christology: Kenosis and condescension are relative, not absolute terms. They describe the shape of Christ’s assumption (127).
The Holy Spirit

Like his Christology, the Holy Spirit is soteriological in character. Since the Holy Spirit deifies and is not deifies, then he is God, full stop. Gregory is drawing upon Origen’s Spirit-Letter dichotomy (166).

The Spirit is involved in the self-revelation of the Trinity. “The sequential self-revelation of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reflects an increase in the power and intensity of that revelation, so that each successive stage prepares the recipients for the next one” (171).

The Trinity

Gregory is more interested in the theology of the divine economy than he is in consubstantiality. “Economy” refers to God’s governance. Monarchia of God the Father: Gregory anchors each person in the unique role of God the father as source and cause (204). It is the ground of the divine unity. In response to Meyendorff, Beeley notes that the first principle of the Trinity is not simply “personhood” but hypostasis + divine essence (212).

Conclusion

The book is top-notch scholarship. While it can’t stand alone as a text on St Gregory, if read in conjunction with McGuckin it will give the student a firm foundation in Patristic studies.